The First Modern Risk: Workplace Accidents and the Origins of European Social States

Julia Moses. Cambridge University Press, June 2018. Available to purchase via Cambridge University Press and Amazon.

During the late nineteenth century, many countries across Europe adopted national legislation that required employers to compensate workers injured or killed in accidents at work. These laws suggested that the risk of accidents was inherent to work and not due to individual negligence. By focusing on Britain, Germany, and Italy during this time, Julia Moses demonstrates how these laws reflected a major transformation in thinking about the nature of individual responsibility and social risk. The First Modern Risk illuminates the implications of this conceptual revolution for the role of the state in managing problems of everyday life, transforming understandings about both the obligations and rights of individuals. Drawing on a wide array of disciplines including law, history, and politics, Moses offers a fascinating transnational view of a pivotal moment in the evolution of the welfare state.


‘Based on detailed work in three countries and languages, this book looks broadly and comparatively at how governments dealt with workplace accidents in the nineteenth century, one of industrialization’s earliest dilemmas. With both empirical substance and theoretical sophistication, it also illuminates the more general problem of the contemporary state first undertaking what is now its foremost task, managing modernity’s ever-growing risks.’

–Peter Baldwin, University of California, Los Angeles

‘In this masterful and path breaking study, Moses identifies the genealogical origins of European social states in the neglected sphere of workplace accidents and the social policies that governments adopted to address what they came to recognize as the ‘first modern risk’. Weaving together a stunning array of research – from law and moral philosophy to state theory and citizenship studies – this book charts the shifting responsibility for the inevitable perils of industrial capitalism, from the personal agency of freedom of contract to state management of an increasingly social distribution of risk. This is a book as timely as it is profound. As neoliberalism’s unremitting assaults on today’s social states have given rise to brutalizing levels of inequality, nothing could be more urgent than our learning from Moses’ deep analysis of the social and political conditions that once created and sustained national commitments to egalitarian social rights.’

–Margaret Somers, University of Michigan

About the Author:

Julia Moses is a senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She studied at Barnard College/Columbia University (New York), Oxford, and Cambridge (as a Gates Scholar). Before joining the Department of History at Sheffield in September 2011, she was a lecturer at Pembroke and Brasenose Colleges, Oxford. She has been a visiting scholar at the Berlin Collegium for the Comparative History of Europe at the Free University; a professeur invitée at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris; an International Guest Lecturer at the University of Bielefeld; a Research Associate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin; and a Marie Curie Fellow at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Göttingen.

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